40 years ago on November 14, 1983 at the Crest (now Nimoy) theater in Westwood, California, Michael Jackson hid in the projection booth as he premiered Thriller, his biggest music video to date. Thriller, directed by American Werewolf in London director John Landis, was eventually entered into the Library of Congress as the most famous music video of all time, and the first to be honored by them.
The iconic costumes were by Landis’ wife Debra Nadoolman, fresh off of Raiders of the Lost Ark – one of the red-and-black jackets worn by Jackson in the video sold at auction for $1.8 million. Effects legend Rick Baker made Jackson into a “werecat” to distinguish him from more common monsters, and involved a team of 40 artists on the shoot.
Jackson would apologize for the violence in the film and the “demonic” characters that conflicted with his Jehovah’s Witness religion, but still rode the wave of popularity and prosperity created by it to become the largest force in pop music.
The Thriller zombie dance, choreographed by Michael Peters, is still performed around the world – by incarcerated prisoners, flash mobs and wedding parties, with the record being 12,937 dancers in Mexico City.
To be eligible for the Academy Awards, Landis had the video played before screenings of Fantasia (1940) at a Los Angeles cinema. It wasn’t nominated, and had to settle for winning a Grammy and Best Overall Performance in a Video, Best Choreography, and Viewer’s Choice from MTV.
It is still widely considered the greatest music video of all time.
Watch for Forrest J. Ackerman, “Famous Monsters of Filmland” magazine editor and the man widely considered to be “Mr. Sci-Fi” by fandom at large, sitting behind MJ as he watches the 1950s monster film in Los Angeles’ Palace Theater.